A Holiday List

2015 Holiday Suggestions

When I started pulling my materials together for this late last month, I didn’t realize how comprehensive my list would end up.  Flipping through my collection of business cards, it turns out that I was introduced to quite a few new products over the last year including those offered from small, locally oriented vendors with passion, personal connection, and value-focus to their product lines.

Gift giving practices will vary from person to person, but my hope is for those making purchases this holiday season, that “consumer vote” will support some of these great products and services.  With “eco-friendly” and “shop small” concepts in mind, a few of my favorite new 2015 finds as well as some old stand-by options are included in this suggestion list:

Essential Oils

The applications for essential oils are immense; aromatherapy, medicinal, personal hygiene, and household cleaning, to name a few.  Good ones don’t come cheap, however.  If you are looking for a resourceful, yet indulgent gift, consider essential oils.

A few classic, reliable vendors include doTerra or Young Living, but there are certainly others worth considering.  It takes a little research into quality standards, but you won’t regret the knowledge gained from exploring this path.

Earlier this year, I met a bright representative of Young Living at an eco-friendly beauty event and learned all about Thieves’ Blend, which comes with a historical story.  It is pretty well accepted that 15th-century French thieves used the blend to cover the inner side of their masks, due to its antibacterial properties, when entering households affected by the plague.  Despite its controversial past, it is still highly revered today.

There was a raffle associated with the event and I was fortunate enough to win a bottle of Young Living Thieves’ Blend household multi-purpose cleaner formula.  So far, it has been fantastic to use.  Not only is it quite remarkable how well it works, it smells great.  It is a much better choice as compared to synthetically “scented” household cleaner formulas.

Finally, if you are looking for finished formulas for a variety of body care, check out Town & Anchor.


My family does an annual game that falls somewhere between white elephant and naughty Santa.  Anything from gently used to brand new can be included as one’s entry as long as newly purchased items don’t exceed a high price point.  Last year storage items, particularly those for the kitchen, seemed to be the most frequently stolen and chit-chatted over throughout the game.

Mason Jars – beyond traditional canning, there are so many uses for these.  They are great for storage, salad jars on the go, fermented foods, smoothies or lemon water, and personal care products.  Most craft stores sell lids with pumps for lotions or liquid soaps.  Even better, the price point is low.  With the versatility of these jars, the value is clear.  Plus, they come in a few different colors.  A ribbon or holiday trim can easily be tied around the lid for a simple, festive presentation.

Stackable Kitchen Storage – several years ago I came across clear, glass kitchen storage canisters at World Market that had a black chalkboard label area pre-stamped on.  At the time, I bought a handful of them in a variety of sizes.  Later, when I started buying almost all my dry goods from bulk bins, I went back for more.  Only this time they had been redesigned to have lids shaped in a way for stacking.  Genius!  Although it has seemed they have phased out using the chalkboard label, you can still purchase chalk board decals.

*See photo at bottom

Beauty & Eco-friendly

The list of chemicals in traditional cosmetics is alarming.  The good news, there are better alternatives.  I was fortunate to be introduced to a few alternative options this year including, but not limited to the following:

Beautycounter – sold through independent consultants, the products are developed to avoid approximately 1,500 chemicals that have either unsafe or inconclusive evidence of safety.  The company also takes a proactive approach educate consumers on cosmetic ingredients, not just sell product.  I was specifically touched by the back side of their business cards in which a “never list” of ingredients to avoid is printed.

Biba Lips – founded with a focus on glamour without less preferred ingredients, such as parabens, synthetics, or artificial fragrances.  “Biba” translates to a beautiful woman both inside and out.  The lip color line is beautifully crafted with botanicals centered on nourishing qualities and packaged in a gold-toned mirrored compact.

Bonnie – handcrafted in Chicago, Bonnie equals more than just lip balm.  The line includes facial masks, lotions & body serums, and natural perfumes.  Even better, the labeling is artistic and fully designed by the owner.  Hello stocking stuffer!

{blade +bloom} – scrubs, soaps, and body balms.  The coffee scrub is phenomenal.

Smart Handbags

A great bag can be hard to find.  Two new options I found this year are below:

(Undercover) POPULAR – specializing in self-proclaimed “upcycled vintage”, the designer finds creative ways to use retired products such as old footballs made into a handbag or wine corks turned into fun and novelty bottle charms.  She also offers a wide selection of vintage handbags and accessories.

PoCampo – I was nearly sold at first site.  These tactfully made bags are not just attractive and eye-catching, they are incredibly resourceful.  Tailored to incorporate our mobile device driven world with an on-the-go lifestyle, their designs are weather-proof and perfect for all commuter types; bike, transit, or car.

Spirits, Botanicals, Brews, & Accessories

I came across Strongwater at a craft festival.  I was blown away by the thought and care put into this old-fashion craft spirit and liquid botanical business.  The Colorado-based, young entrepreneurs focus on classic cocktail mixers based on apple cider vinegar with infused ingredients and herbal bitters extracted in grain alcohol.  Each tailored to blend flavor with apothecary health benefits.

If looking for a great complimentary product, check out 3-Switch glassware or DropCatch barware.  Completely indulgent and cool, fun products, the funky glasses and decanters 3-Switch offer are perfect for holiday cheer while DropCatch’s bar accessories are classic, stylish and practical, including their signature magnetic bottle openers.

Another beverage option is to look into local brewers that offer half and full size growlers.  This is a great way to support small-batch, sustainable, and/or organic brewers.  In Chicago, we have a fantastic addition to our local brewery community, Greenstar Brewing, http://www.uncommonground.com/greenstar-brewing.

Sustainable Produce, Seeds, & Other Organic Foods

Earlier this year, I was searching for off the beaten track gifts of a practical nature and the idea of sending up a produce box or signing the recipient up for a membership was suggested.  It takes a little digging within your respective communities, but many local companies specialize in local produce delivery, many times all or partially organic.  Another good place to look is locally owned and operated grocers.  It’s kind of free marketing for them, so it’s a win-win opportunity.

As for seed banks, it also takes a little digging to find organic vendors, but many of them operate online.  I have used SeedsNow a handful of times, including for additions to wedding gift baskets.  Spring planting themes would be great for holiday gift giving.

If you are seeking a good catch all vendor selling organic foods, teas, essential oils, and other health related products online, check out eSutras Organics.  Specializing in small batch products, they also have sustainability built into many aspects of their business model, including sourcing from smaller, artisan traders and offering discounts to customers who ship back their containers for reuse and recycling.

Handmade Soaps & Candles

It seems as though overnight, everyone is making soaps or candles.  Based on essential oils and natural ingredients, the aromatic combinations seem endless.  It’s hard to select just one.[1]  A few that I have been pleased to come across are as follows:

Soap Distillery – definitely a small-batch vendor, but not without a high level of uniqueness.  I recommend trying the Limoncello for a clean, fresh scent.

Cloud Nine Soap Co.  – this company covers all your needs for soap including body bars, a kitchen collection, designs for kids, shaving soap, and a laundry formula.  Not only are they resourceful, they have come up with some pretty great fragrance offerings.  They even sell “beer soap” which is actually infused with beer.  How is that for a unique gift option?  Also consider their skin & lip care items, bath accessories, and soy candles.

Peripeti Home – soy candles and home fragrances using essential oils over synthetics.  Seasonal fragrances include Holiday Hearth, Pumpkin & Ginger, and Cypress & Jasmine.

Artumie Candle Studio – handcrafted in Chicago and featured in select small shops across half a dozen states (also available through Wild Poppy Goods online shop, http://www.wildpoppygoods.com).  My favorite is Bergamot & Basil while Midwest Campfire is a close second and seasonally appropriate option.

The Sweet Side

There are a ton of sugar-sweetened products on the market, but only a few earn my vote.  Typically, I am looking for low sugar content (if any added sugars are used at all) and additive free, such as no gluten, dairy, or soy.  The reality is that good food products, especially those of specialty nature, often don’t come cheap.

One staple I have found is Theo chocolate bars.  For about $3.99/bar, a variety of options are available with mostly natural sweetening ingredients, such as coconut, versus added refined sugar.  For the holidays, they are offering Gingerbread Spice, Peppermint Stick, and Nutcracker Brittle specialty flavors at a slightly higher price point.  They also offer a Sea Salt Dark bar benefiting World Bicycle Relief.

This year, I also came across GrownUpKidStuff which focuses on chocolate and caramel sauces made without corn, soy, gluten, or nuts.  They also make a dairy free option.  A few of their options are definitely unique, such as a chocolate sauce infused with Big Fat’s hot sauce.

Finally, don’t forget organic spices, especially for your recipients who love to cook.  Again, a few decadent options can come at a higher price tag for everyday use.  The holidays are a great time to spoil your loved ones with a few extra additions to their spice cabinet.

Mom-made Fashions

Many years ago I befriended an outgoing young woman, Melissa, the mastermind behind Sew Like My Mom.  From what started as a hobby making colorful patterned handbags, and synergistic to her life as a mother, she has grown her business from crafty, homemade designs to the development of her own line of children’s clothing patterns.

***Watch for her four adorable children in her images and product marketing.

Other Unique Apparel, Home Goods, & Finds

Representing a hodge-podge, this list of vendors and retail stores cover a variety.  Most of which encompass eco-friendly offerings.

American-made – founded by a husband and wife duo, 50Roots serves to focus on American-made products representing products across the United States.  Carefully selected, from wine glasses to recycled messenger bags to a slinky, the product line is as diverse as the states in which products are made.  For the kiddos, check out their Eco-Kids arts and crafts and definitely do not forget to gloss over their “For Fido” options.

Global and ArtisanTen Thousand Villages operates stores across the U.S. and features artisan-made products representative of over 3 dozen developing countries while promoting fair trade.  Shop with a conscious at this crafty, diverse retailer (also available online).

Interchangeable Sandals – one of the coolest products I came across in the last year, Mohop Shoes uses orthopedic materials, changeable ties and accessories, and are made from sustainably-sourced, recycled, or fair-trade materials.  Select from either Made to Order and Ready to Wear options and be sure to also check them out on YouTube.

Rustic, Artistic, and Practical – if looking for anything from jewelry to lunch bags to a chicken coop with a refurbished feel, be sure to check out Peg + Awl.  Led by a husband and wife duo, the pair designs an array of products all with a special touch of family inspiration.

[1] Not all soy candles are created equal.  If a vendor cannot speak to this, it may be worth passing on them for now.

Photo of clear storage canisters mentioned above:


Ashley L Arnold, MBA, MPH is a lifestyle health educator and coach who supports clients to channel authority over their health, well-being, and overall vitality.  Offering health education approaches and 1-on-1 coaching modules, she gets them out of excess weeds of information and inconsistent practices that don’t get desired results.  Through helping people focus on the right applications paired with appropriate consideration for bio-individual facets, they become stronger, more confident self-advocates for their health.  Bottom line, they will surpass challenges, embrace healthful living with ease, and, best of all, feel a greater sense of empowerment and more energy!

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